Current dogma holds that all cultures and moral values are conditional, nothing human is innate, and Einstein proved that the whole universe is "relative". Challenging this position, William Gairdner argues that relativism is not only logically and morally self-defeating but that progress in scientific and intellectual disciplines has actually strengthened the case for absolutes, universals, and constants of nature and human nature.
Gairdner refutes the popular belief in cultural relativism by showing that there are hundreds of well-established cross-cultural "human universals". He then discusses the many universals found in physics – as well as Einstein's personal regret at how his work was misinterpreted by the public's eagerness to promote relativism. Gairdner also gives a lively account of the many universals of human biology, including the controversial topic of universal gender differences or "brain sex". He then looks at universal concepts of both natural and international law, and ends by discussing language theory. He shows how philosophers from Nietzsche to Derrida have misused linguistic concepts to justify their relativism, even though a sustained and successful effort by serious scientists and philosophers of language has revealed myriad universals of human language, ranging from language acquisition, to word-order, to "Universal Grammar".
From ethics to Einstein, culture to biology, law to language, The Book of Absolutes makes complex topics accessible to a broad audience and demonstrates that there are plenty of certainties, even in our postmodern world.
1 A Brief History of Relativism 3
2 The Main Types of Relativism 22
3 Objections to Relativism 31
4 The Universals of Human Life and Culture 44
5 The Constants of Nature 69
6 The War over Biology: Setting the Stage 105
7 Hardwired: The Universals of Human Biology, Sex, and Brain Sex 120
8 Universals of Law: The Natural Law and the Moral Law 163
9 The Natural Law and the Moral Law at Work in the World 194
10 How Language Theory Changed the (Post) Modern World 217
11 German Philosophy and the Relativist Revolt against Western Civilization 236
12 The Sacred Text: The French Nietzsche and the French Heidegger 249
13 Po-Mo and the Return to Absolutes 266
14 The Universals of Language 278
15 A Postscript, with a Word about the Universals of Literature, Myth, and Symbol 300
Appendix: Some Universals and Constants of Nature and Human Nature 309
William D. Gairdner is a best-selling author, businessman, and independent scholar . His most recent books are Canada's Founding Debates and The Trouble with Democracy.
"Gairdner has taken the torch from William F. Buckley's failing hands and lifted it high with his new work [...] an objective reader is left wondering how relativism ever got a toehold in the popular imagination in the first place."
– The Calgary Herald
"Strikingly original and important."
– Tom Flanagan, University of Calgary
"Gairdner's intellectual range and control his material is breathtaking [...] almost no one writing today has the command of the literature in as many disciplines as this author has."
– Ian Gentles, York University